Review: The Roaring Twenties at the Bata Shoe Museum.
March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
The Bata Shoe Museum put their best foot forward with their new exhibit entitled, The Roaring Twenties: Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits. The flappers, suffragettes and fashionistas of the era almost seem to linger on the second floor of the museum, where the political history and fashion trends of the generation are seamlessly blended into one entertaining display of wearable art.
All along the walls of the small, one-room gallery space, ladies high heels are displayed like fabulous trophies in pairs, some in their original shoe boxes, others scattered about a vintage Louis Vuitton rolling suitcase. An object as simple as a pair of shoes can function as a fascinating representation of the decade. Practical, button up shoes are contrasted with glamorous rhinestone encrusted T-straps, demonstrating the struggles of suffragettes for legitimacy. This may seem far-fetched, but it does seem possible that women were judged by their footwear, with sensible shoes worn by a ‘rational’ woman, and extravagant ones by a ‘frivolous’ one, all as justification for discrediting their suffrage movement.
Beyond political history, the viewer can explore the style trends of the decade, and the influences behind them. As is explained on informative plaques and notes below the shoes, some new footwear designs had utilitarian purposes, such as the T-strap, which gave women greater dexterity and comfort while dancing in the busy clubs. It isn’t difficult to conjure up the mood of Manhattan nightlife, with film projections of dancing flappers across two walls of the gallery. Other designs are inspired by world events, such as the discovery of King Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. Given so many fascinating connections made between style, lifestyle and society in the twenties, the footwear gathered in this exhibit can not only be viewed as art objects, but as artifacts.
While I find that some Bata exhibits can be somewhat overwhelming, or perhaps slightly scattered due to the quantity and variety of material that they include, I was pleasantly surprised to find none of that here. By focusing on the styles of a decade, the exhibit brings out a deeper analysis of the social influences that manifest in the shoes. ‘Roaring Twenties’ does a great job of engaging with the footwear in order to better interpret the spirit of the era. With The Artist winning Best Picture this year, the exhibit couldn’t be timelier.
Roaring Twenties runs at the Bata Shoe Museum until June 2012.